It's a lifestyle slogan for the new century: A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage, and a PC in every room. In fact, the PC has done more than simply replace the television as the gathering point in many homes--for many people (including me), it is the television.
Let me explain. Three years ago when we moved into our home, I had a nutty idea: Abolish TVs from the entire first floor of the house and consign our viewing to a rec room in the basement. Everything worked great, until I realized I couldn't watch football games if I had to work in the kitchen. Oh, my wife had a PC in kitchen, where she could manage her schedule, send e-mails, and even look up recipes on the Web. But I couldn't watch football while making grilled cheese sandwiches. Outrage!
So I decided to upgrade the humdrum graphics card in my wife's Compaq Presario desktop with an ATI Radeon All-in-Wonder card. This little marvel is a graphics card, TV tuner, and video center all rolled into one. I installed the card, hooked up the monitor, and plugged the fortuitously located coaxial TV cable from the kitchen wall into the card. Fifteen minutes later, I was watching SportsCenter.
That little experience kicked off a frightful media binge in my home. Today, I have three PCs humming away in different rooms all over the house, and all three double nicely as TVs. I've even used the PCs to make digital recordings of shows--a real lifesaver when our 10-year-old VCR died last fall.
So what does it take, really, to get an old PC to learn some new TV tricks? Not that much. Here's what you'll need:
- A decent PC with at least a fast Pentium III processor (above 500 MHz) and at least 10GB or so of free hard-drive space (you'll want more storage room if you plan to record your favorite shows, too).
- A way to get a TV signal into your computer. This could be a graphics card with a TV tuner attached or a dedicated PCI tuner card or USB-based tuner box (the latter is a notebook user's only option).
- Software for controlling the TV tuner hardware (changing channels, volume, and so on) and managing video input and output. Most tuner cards come with the basic apps you'll need.
- For watching DVD movies on your PC, you'll need to purchase player software specifically designed to display DVD video content. Of course, your PC will need a DVD drive.